Photo courtesy of Nicole Sweet Sports.
By David Cordova
When pro athletes get to the stage known as retirement, the one question that permeates from their minds is simply, what’s next? Once their shoes are hung up for good, these former players are looking for something to occupy their time.
For some of them, they give back by teaching the youth what they learned themselves when they were their age. This weekend at the GEICO Nationals in the Middle Village section of Queens, New York, two former NBA players came out with their respective high school teams to compete for a chance to play for a national championship.
Those players are none other than Mike Bibby, who played for six teams in a 14-year NBA career and Brandon Roy, a three-time NBA All-Star and 2007 NBA Rookie of Year, who played for both the Portland Trail Blazers and Minnesota Timberwolves for seven seasons in the NBA before being forced to retire due to knee problems.
Since then, both coaches have achieved success. Bibby has won four Arizona state championships while compiling a record of 131-18 at Shadow Mountain, the school which he also graduated from in 1996. In the case of Roy, his record is 57-2, while winning two state championships at two different schools.
Last season, Roy went 29-0 at the helm, at Nathan Hale High School, in which he had brothers, Michael Porter, Jr. and Jontay Porter, both of whom played at the University of Missouri, and are projected to be first-round draft picks in this year’s NBA draft, which is set to take place on June 21st. The Raiders won a Washington state title and finished No. 2 in the USA Today national poll.
This year, Roy went to Garfield and finished 28-2, and won a state title with the Bulldogs.
When asked about what lessons he imparts to his players and how they liked playing in the Mecca of Basketball, Bibby replied, “I give them all lessons, I mean schoolwork, you know staying school. Which I try to do, kind of like, NBA, college, giving them you know, that kind of feel right now, that they have in high school as far as scouting reports and walkthroughs before the games and how we’re going to play this and that.”
Like many other mentors, he always preaches academics. “I always tell them that grades come first. You can’t get to that next level with bad grades. And it’s more than just grades, you have to get ready for the SAT and/or the ACT. I just try to prepare the men. They’re young men, I hold them accountable. And I’m hard on them, I yell at them, because I know how good they can be and I’m not going to let them cut themselves short.”
On coming to New York: “We love coming to New York, you know, it’s a great place to play, it’s the Mecca of Basketball. We’re far away from here, but you know, these kids might not ever come back, and you know, just for them to see New York, to see the sights and stuff is good for them.”
Roy’s take on the Garfield experience at GEICO Nationals, “I thought it was a great experience. I’ve been fortunate to play in a lot of big games and a lot of big moments, so I was excited for the opportunity to come here and play.”
When asked what it was like being able to play in New York, “It’s great, because when I was coming up, New York had all the basketball, there were so many guards coming from this city and players that come from this city. I played at Rucker Park when I was coming up after college, and so there’s so much history and basketball here and not just the basketball, but also the city, so it’s good that we go out and see some sights, but we wish we were playing, but now our kids get to get out and have the full experience.”
And when asked what life lessons he gives out to his players, he replied, “I just really just try to just go over my experiences, but everybody’s situations are going to be different. And when I was coming up, I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, but I thought I was very driven and very focused to put myself on that stage and I just try to tell those guys, ‘These are opportunities that you have to do so.’ And everybody that’s slated as top-25 in the country are not gonna be the ones in the future, you get guys that, you know, step up, me and guys like Deron Williams, Randy Foye, we always talked about how we weren’t the guys, but we made it to the NBA, because we kept that focus, so that’s just the lessons and the message that I try to teach them is that if there’s a guy ahead of you, you chase them, and if there’s a guy behind you, you do everything you can to stay ahead of them, so just teaching them those experiences and getting them to understand that, ‘Hey, look, you got a taste of what it’s like, now keep pushing even harder to take one of those spots.”
Both Shadow Mountain and Garfield both have several talented highly-touted prospects and hidden gems on their respective squads.
For the Matadors, they have 6-foot-2 junior guard Jaelen House, who is verbally committed to the University of Arizona, 6-foot-1 junior point guard Jovan Blacksher, 6-foot-5 junior Jalen Williams, 6-foot-5 senior forward Immanuel Allen, 6-foot-4 junior guard/forward Shemar Morrow and 6-foot-4 junior guard/forward Antonio Reeves.
The Bulldogs have talents such as, 6-foot-9 senior power forward J’Raan Brooks, who is rated as a Top-100 recruit in the Class of 2018 by ESPN and is committed to USC. There is also 6-foot-3 junior shooting guard P.J. Fuller, rated the No. 45 player in the Class of 2019 by ESPN. Other talented players for Garfield was 6-foot-6 junior guard Jamon Kemp, 6-foot-2 junior point guard Pierre Crockwell, Jr., 6-foot-2 senior point guard Eddie Turner and 6-foot-6 combo guard Marjon Beauchamp.
With such talent on both squads, one would think it would be a cakewalk playing in the GEICO Nationals against such elite squads. But it was not to be, as both teams would fall to big-time opponents.
Shadow Mountain played the University School of Florida very close in the early going, only trailing by four, 34-30 at the half. But in the second half, the Sharks took control of the Matadors and wound up winning by twelve, 75-63.
“They’re a tough team, I think we gave up a lot of size,” said Bibby on the defeat. “You know, the stuff that we kind of harped on in our walkthroughs, boxing out and rebounding, you know, we kind of failed, on the boxout at some points.”
Blacksher (20 points) and Allen (19 points) gave them the pace that they needed, along with House (12 points and four assists). Although they would leave New York with the loss, they definitely put up a good effort.
“He play good today,” said Bibby of House, “Anybody who plays basketball knows that you’re not going to shoot 100% every game and be hot every game, and it was just one of them games that he didn’t shoot good, and it just happened to be this one. But overall, I think he had a great year, played good, and I thought it was fun for to get a chance to play in this game, to be in this situation because he didn’t get a chance to last year.”
When asked about what it’s like playing for Bibby, Blacksher replied, “It’s extremely good, we learn a lot of stuff that normal high school people wouldn’t know.”
As for Garfield, although they were led by Brooks’ performance of 15 points and 11 rebounds, they would finish their season on a sad note, as they would lose to national powerhouse, Oak Hill Academy, 75-53.
“Our start was disappointing, trying to get kids ready for this type of stage, this type of atmosphere, against a great program like Oak Hill, you know, you try to wonder, how do you do that? So, getting this experience, I think it’s great for our younger guys. J’Raan was really able to play good today, so, again, I’m just happy that we were able to come out here and experience it, and hopefully get better from it.” said Roy on the losing effort.
Of course, this wasn’t Roy’s first time playing Oak Hill, as his Nathan Hale team with the Porter brothers and Fuller, who transferred into Garfield this season from Hale, knocked off the Warriors, 80-77, at the Hoophall Classic in SpringField, Massachusetts, in January 2017.
When asked what was the difference in his team last year at Nathan Hale to the current team this season at Garfield, Roy replied, “You know, I would say the difference between, you know, playing Oak Hill this year and playing Oak Hill last year was Michael Porter had experience against so many guys. We were going into the game, he was extremely ready and he was confident and he gave us a lot of confidence, and me being a first-year coach, because he’s seen it all, he’s played in the 18U, he’s played in the McDonald’s Games, he’s played against those kids his entire life. And sometimes, it’s not about who’s better, it’s just about who’s not scared, and who’s seen that moment. And I just feel like we were giving them our best shot in that first half. So that was the biggest difference going into those games last season. This team, I was trying to explain to them the difference between the teams we play every day vs. an Oak Hill Academy, it’s just hard to simulate.
All in all, it was a good feat for two public schools to do battle in a national event, against teams that were mainly either private schools or prep schools. Although they didn’t leave New York with a win, both won state championships in their respective states, which means that their respective seasons were pretty much successful.
In the USA Today national poll, Shadow Mountain finishes at No. 7 and Garfield finishes at No. 11.
Who knows, maybe next year, one or both of these teams will make another appearance again at the GEICO Nationals.